Dear diary, today I…
Nope. That's not what this is about.
Journaling's so much more than keeping a log of what you've done - although it can do that too. Instead, it's a way to express yourself, discover what motivates you and achieve your dreams.
Sound a bit lofty?
It is. And that's exactly why some of the brightest male minds in history - including Bruce Lee, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison and Charles Darwin - kept one.Speaking of the latter, did we mention journaling gives your brain a boost? It does. But before we get into all of that, though.
What is journaling, exactly?
Essentially, journaling is writing down your thoughts and feelings so you can understand them more clearly. That's at its most basic, anyway. Make a habit of putting your pen to paper, and it can be so much more.
But what's the difference between a diary and a journal?
OK, so you can use a diary and a journal to deal with day-to-day life. But the difference is, that's all a diary's for; jotting down what happened. Journaling is much more than keeping a daily record of events and experiences. But it's entirely different and incredibly personal for every guy - that's why it works.
So why should men journal?
Guys aren't always great at opening up. In fact, research suggests that while 67% of women would tell someone they're depressed, only 55% of men will do the same. But this can have hazardous effects on our health. Bottling up negative thoughts over time causes us to shut down emotionally and can even compromise our immune system. Alarmingly, the biggest killer of men between 20 and 49 is suicide. That's why we reckon guys need journaling the most. But whether you struggle to talk to your mates or feel comfortable sharing, journaling gives you a private place to go. By opening up inside the pages of your journal, you can quickly discover how you're actually feeling. What's more, by privately articulating these thoughts and feelings, you'll become more confident in expressing who you are and who you want to be. This is just one of many reasons to journal, though.
1. It's a healthy way to organise your thoughts and feelings
Studies by renowned Professor James Pennebaker have demonstrated the health benefits of organising your thoughts and feelings. Research revealed that people who got their thoughts and feelings onto paper were far more able to handle traumas and emotional stress than those who didn't. Why? Because the simple act of journaling gave them control over any unhelpful thoughts. It stops themes in their tracks before they have a chance to spiral. In turn, this reduces feelings of stress, anxiety and depression - contributing to a better night's sleep.
Another experimental study showed that expressive writing helps our brain to "cool down" when we're in a heightened state of worrying. This makes journaling more than just a safe space to offload; by clearing your mind of worries, you're also freeing up resources that can be used on other tasks. Get into a healthy habit, and it's a powerful motivational tool as well.
2. It helps you tackle to-dos and stay productive
Journaling helps you make sense of cluttered thoughts, giving you more space to focus on what's important - like your daily tasks. And the good thing is, there's no regimented way of using it; your journal can help you brainstorm and make sense of ideas, plan your to-dos and monitor your progress. Struggling to find the motivation to keep going when you're WFH? Journaling is a great way to keep you motivated and on track. Essentially, it enables you to get all of your tasks, goals and intentions down in one place. Importantly, it does so somewhere that isn't another screen. Not only does it help stop you from becoming distracted, but it also allows you to reward yourself when you achieve your goals.
3. It helps you to set realistic goals every day
We need achievable goals to feel happy and fulfilled. But setting these doesn't just take motivation; it requires consistent habits you can stick with. Whether by day, week or month, journaling gives you a place to prioritise your tasks and objectives. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by everything, you'll have a much better idea of where you are now and, more importantly, how to get where you're going. In fact, it's even been scientifically proven that you're 42% more likely to achieve your goals when you write them down. This works so well because it gives you space to reward yourself with more time for want you want to do. Essentially, journaling actively incentivises better habits. But the benefits of journaling don't just come from working out what you want to achieve. This process can help you realise what you've actually got, too.
4. It gets you thinking about what you're grateful for
Sometimes it's too easy to forget the good things in life - we get it. But countless research has shown the benefits of being grateful. For example, one study found that daily gratitude journaling can strengthen relationships, improve sleep, increase personal joy and decrease the symptoms of physical pain. In fact, there's even evidence to suggest that it can lower the risk of heart disease in some cases.
The act of journaling gives you a reason to think about the things that make you feel good, big or small. Not only that, your journal itself is a constant reminder of what you do have - ready to refer to in times you need it most.
5. It's a healthy way to set aside time for yourself
Speaking of time, it's easy to get caught up in work and other commitments. But that almost always comes at the expense of the good stuff. Whether it's a morning run with the dog or a moment to yourself with a good book, these things aren't nice-to-haves - they're essentials. And they don't just make you happier; they ensure you're the best version of yourself for everyone else. So plan your daily tasks but make room for the other stuff too. It's not selfish in this space; that's what your journal's for. And you don't have to commit to pages of prose.
6. You can check in quickly and boost your mood
It's not always easier to figure out how you're actually doing. Not when things are muddled up in your mind, anyway. Writing in your journal doesn't have to be chapter and verse. By checking in, you can quickly identify how you're feeling in as little as five minutes. Writing helps you identify and separate the swirl of emotions in your head to quickly make sense of what's happening. Prioritising any problems, fears, and concerns can help you feel happier and more in control. That's because journaling gives you a structured way to track your mood daily. Consequently, you can recognise the triggers and learn to stay on top of them.
After that, you can give yourself a break for feeling the way you do - and get on with your day. But it's not just your mental health that journaling can help; it has various physical health benefits as well.
7. Boost your immune system and improve your physical health
OK, so many factors contribute to the stress in our lives. But whatever the cause, stress creates cortisol, a hormone that can suppress your immune system's effectiveness in fighting off infections. How? By interfering with how our white blood cells communicate and work. Various studies have found that journaling can be a stress relief tool, lowering cortisol levels and increasing your body's recovery times. In turn, this can combat the early symptoms of burnout before they sink in. There's also evidence to suggest that journaling can help combat diseases like asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. But on top of all that, the simple habit of journaling encourages you to make healthier lifestyle choices. That's because your journal can help you track everything from diet and exercise to doctor appointments and dental check-ups. It also ensures you keep your fitness goals structured and on track. But those aren't the only things journaling will help you remember to do.
8. Improve your memory and brain functions
Many of us find ourselves writing less and less these days. But when you get things down onto paper by hand, your brain finds it easier to process this information and commit it to memory. Because by focusing on a particular idea or thought, you're more likely to remember it; essentially, it's like revising for an exam. But journaling doesn't just boost your working memory; it can also help inform decision-making and cognitive processing. That's because journaling allows you to think about things logically. By organising thoughts and tasks into words and sentences, you'll be better equipped to process them in a healthy way.
Sound good? It's a game-changer.
But how do I start, and what should I write about?
Putting pen to paper can feel pretty intimidating, can't it? But it doesn't have to feel like a big thing when you journal. At the end of the day, this is your private outlet, and there are no rules to getting it right. Still not sure? No problem. We've put together some simple guidelines to get started.
1. Go easy on yourself (and don't judge)
One of the most significant upsides of journaling is that it's a private place - free of judgment. So before you even write a word, be mindful of going easy on yourself. Stuff like spelling and grammar doesn't matter here - nor does it have to read well or make sense to anybody else. This is for your eyes only. So be authentic, uncensored and lock that inner critic up for a while.
2. Find a technique that suits you
Sure, there are plenty of ways you can keep a journal online these days. But because of the numerous benefits of handwriting, we reckon a physical journal's best. That doesn't mean you're limited in how you use it, though. There are plenty of tried-and-tested journaling styles you could have a crack at. Three of the more popular ones include:
Bullet Journaling - a great way to turn ideas into accomplishments, a bullet journal helps you log to-dos, jot down notes, track your mood and record both short and long-term goals.
Morning Pages - this free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness style of journaling involves sitting down to write and not stopping until you've filled up three pages. It's designed to clear your mind, build confidence and help you learn to express yourself.
One-Sentence Journaling - jot down a prompt for the month and then write one sentence that sums up what's going on or of any significance each day. Great if you want to journal but are struggling to find the time.
- Guided Journaling - this popular type of journaling includes prompts to help you write about a particular subject or aspect of your life. For example, MindJournal asks you to check in on how you're feeling before guiding you through various exercises.
So, what should you focus on?
3. Write about anything that comes to mind
There's no one way you should use a journal. That means you can basically write about anything important to you. Whether that's feelings, ideas, goals or a way to itch that creative scratch - it's your call.
The important part is the expression. So let the words flow and write.
Remember not to be hard on yourself if it doesn't come easy at first. Like any habit, the more you do, the easier it will become. So start small, and before you know it, you'll be writing pages for prose.
Struggling to get started? It's all good. Just try these:
4. Journaling prompts can beat the block
Ask any writer, and they'll tell you it's not always easy to find the words. Don't worry. These journaling prompts will gradually shift writer's block and get that pen flowing. Try writing about:
- any things or people you're grateful for
- your goals and intentions for the day, week, month or year
- recent situations that challenged you
- the little things that bring you joy each day
- the best decisions you ever made
- someone in your life - draft them a letter you won't actually send.
- a recent situation that challenged you
- an (unsent) letter to someone in your life
- small things that bring you joy throughout the day
Feeling stuck for prompts? No problem. That's where a guided journal like MindJournal can help.
However, you don't have to limit yourself to words to express yourself.
5. Use this space to get creative
You can incorporate all creative concepts throughout your journal, whether hand-drawn sketches or scraps that inspire you - whatever gets your creative juices going. Even doodling positively affects your mental health, keeping you mindful and helping you unwind. Essentially, the important thing is that you're opening up your mind and expressing yourself. So how you choose to do it is entirely up to you.
How can I create a journaling habit I'll stick to?
Journaling works best when it complements your routine - not breaks it.
But how do you make a regular habit out of doing it?
A good place to start is by making small, incremental changes to your routine. Take the British Olympic Cycling team, for example. When Sir Dave Brailsford became head of British Cycling in 2002, the team had almost no record of success. Instead of looking to change everything at once, he applied a theory of marginal gains to cycling. To start with, he broke down everything he could think of that goes into competing on a bike. Then he looked to improve every element but just 1%
"We were precise about food preparation," he told Harvard Business Review. "We brought our own mattresses and pillows so our athletes could sleep in the same posture every night. We searched for small improvements everywhere and found countless opportunities," he continued.
And it worked. Fast-forward to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Brailsford's squad won seven out of the 10 gold medals available in track cycling; they also matched the achievement at the London Olympics four years later. See what we mean? Small changes to your day-to-day can make a big difference.
So what else can you do?
1. Start by setting a time and take things slow
Try journaling and different times of the day to find out what works best for you. It's pretty likely that you might find it easier to write in some locations than others. So try various rooms, your garden or even the commute to work if you're on the bus or train. Once you've found the right time and place - one that's free of distractions - start slow. You don't need to write page after page. You can build up to that if and when you want to. Need a bit more structure? Try time blocking by setting a timer for a few minutes a day. Then slowly increase it as and when you're ready to go a little longer. The most important thing is finding the right routine you can stick with.
2. Then turn your routine into a ritual
Journaling at the same time every day, week or month is a great way to build a routine. But try keeping your journal in the same spot, e.g. your bedside table, to remind you it's a bedtime activity. Draw the curtains, put on a bedside lamp and set the right mood for the moment. Little things like this turn a routine into a ritual. But perhaps more important than anything else…
3. Stay consistent and keep your expectations realistic
It's up to you to choose your journaling schedule, which should work around your life. Whether you like to write daily or once a month, keep to the same time and routine. This is the best thing you can do to form a healthy habit that you'll stick to. Just try not to bite off more than you can chew. Instead, take it one day at a time. Eventually, it will feel so natural you won't even think about it. Struggling to keep it up? Try rewarding yourself when you don't skip your journaling session - it'll motivate you to keep going.
At the end of the day, it's about keeping your expectations realistic and not putting too much pressure on yourself. You shouldn't feel discouraged if you don't immediately see results; this is about the journey, not the destination. You've got your whole life to get there. And you will.
What can you do alongside journaling?
Making journaling a part of your routine's a great way to feel happy and healthier. But it's also a tool that plays well with others. Here are some other tried-and-tested tactics that can complement your journaling without taking up too much of your time.
1. Slow things down by matching mindfulness with journaling
Mindfulness and journaling go hand-in-hand. Both encourage you to focus on the moment instead of worrying about the past or the future. Try a simple mindfulness exercise like deep breathing before you open your journal - take a deep inhale through your nostrils (3 seconds), hold your breath (2 seconds), and a long exhale through your mouth (4 seconds) - then start writing.
Combining the two can be a powerful way to process your thoughts and feelings. That's because mindful journaling gives you the headspace to acknowledge your feelings and focus purely on them for a while.
If you're feeling active, you could also try mindful running. This form of meditation on the move will help to boost your confidence whilst also keeping you going for longer. We've gone into some detail about mindful running here. Interested in learning more?
2. Combine affirmations with the intentions inside your journal
Affirmations are positive statements that can help you challenge and overcome negative thoughts. The idea is that if you repeat the words often enough, you'll not only start to believe them, you'll actually act on these statements too. An affirmation could be something like:
"I am good enough."
"I do deserve this promotion."
"I'm worthy of my relationship and friends."
Match these with the intentions you set yourself in your journal and you can start to positively influence your outlook on life. But this doesn't just have mental benefits; various studies have shown that optimism can reduce the risk of cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes.
3. Get SMART with the goals you set
Your journal is the perfect place to set goals and hold yourself accountable. But there's often a great area with the objectives we set ourselves - like when is enough, enough?
This is why it's helpful to keep a SMART framework in mind. Especially when it comes to soft skills like communication and flexibility, which are much harder to measure.
Just keep this set of guidelines in mind when you write your goals and intentions, and they'll suddenly feel realistic and obtainable:
- Specific - i.e. What is your goal?
- Measurable - i.e. When will you know that your goal is complete?
- Achievable - i.e. What small tasks will build up to your goal?
- Relevant - i.e. Why do you want to complete this goal?
- Time-sensitive - i.e. When will you aim to complete your goal?
So if you're looking to improve your interpersonal skills, the SMART goals could look like this:
- Read one article today about improving interpersonal skills.
- Watch two videos this week around the subject.
- Try two actions at work that you've learned, e.g. acknowledge one colleague's expertise and ask about what they like doing outside of work.
- Record the outcomes in your journal and repeat them with somebody else.
These aren't just realistic and achievable. By recording the outcomes in your journal, they're also measurable. Looking for a little more advice on how to set and achieve goals? From picking realistic objectives to tracking your progress, we've gone into more detail about goal setting here.
Is it helpful to look back at past journal entries?
Absolutely. Looking back on past entries helps you reflect on where you were and how far you've come. It's also a good way of recognising all of the good things in your life whilst also finding any patterns in thoughts and behaviours. That way, you can focus on the stuff coming up most frequently. So feel free to reflect on your journey and then plan for the future. Make a lifelong habit out of journaling and it'll stand by your side forever.